Gary Brenner doesn’t collect typical things. Instead of baseball cards, pocketknives or antiques, the Carpentersville resident searches for law enforcement memorabilia such as badges, ambulance lights and fire engine sirens.
Then there’s his prized John Dillinger collection, which includes a personalized Cook County Highway Patrol badge for Lt. Edward Weber, who was wounded in a shootout with the Dillinger gang in Evergreen Park in 1933.
Over the years, the machinist has spent more than $20,000 on items, and he has at least 125 law enforcement badges, as well as miscellaneous lights and sirens from fire engines, police cars and ambulances.
Brenner also has two Medals of Honor that were passed down from his family.
The 54-year-old spoke with reporter Lawerence Synett about what got him interested in becoming a collector and some of the items he has come across.
Synett: What got you interested in collecting police and fire memorabilia?
Brenner: I used to have a co-worker whose family was part of the Chicago Police Department. He took me to gun shows, and there was a ton of stuff. You could get anything you wanted. It just progressed from there.
Synett: What’s your most prized item?
Brenner: It has to be the Cook County Highway Patrol badge for Lt. Edward Weber. It’s something that there is only one of. I ended up getting these two badges from a friend, and he told me one of them was for an officer that got shot in a robbery. I looked it up in old newspapers and found out the guy was shot fighting Dillinger.
Synett: If there was one collectible you could have, what would it be?
Brenner: I used to collect coins and have always wanted the 1909 S VDB penny, one of the more rare coins around. I have collected a lot of things over the years, but that is one thing I haven’t found. I would probably trade some things for that.
Synett: What’s so great about memorabilia?
Brenner: Souvenirs are mass-produced, but memorabilia is legitimate items that are impossible to come across unless you search and are willing to spend. I don’t do this as a means of financial support. This is my passion.
The Brenner lowdown
Who is he? Law enforcement memorabilia and John Dillinger artifact collector
Family? Wife, Lisa, and two children, Marisa, 19, and Brian, 13
Grew up in? Skokie and Glenview
Job? Machinist since 2001
Favorite collectible? Cook County Highway Patrol badge for lieutenant wounded in a shootout with the Dillinger gang in Evergreen Park in 1933
Spent how much on items? $20,000